How Social Security Office Closings Impact SSD Wait Times in 2022

by Lori Polemenakos   ·  3 days ago  

Important: We updated this article in August 2022 with current SSA office policies for walk-in visitors. On March 17, 2020, the Social Security Administration decided to temporarily close all field offices due to the coronavirus outbreak. More than a year later, SSA offices began accepting some limited in-person appointments on May 28, 2021. To see if your local SSA office is open, please check the SSA’s website here. People interested in disability benefits can also access this vital SSA service through one of the following options:

  • Having a legal representative file your disability application, check your claim status or handle your appeal in a timely manner
  • Visiting SSA.gov’s online web portal
  • Calling 1-800-772-1213 to contact the SSA by phone toll-free (TTY: 1-800-325-0778)

Below, we’ll address some concerns from people worried about getting disability benefits while some regional offices are temporarily closed.

Who Can Now Request an In-Person Appointment in 2022?

For the following issues, call 1-800-772-1213 to request an in-person “express interview” appointment at your local Social Security office:

  • Original Social Security card requests for people aged 12 and older
  • Replacement Social Security cards for people whose current information is incorrect (i.e., name change after marriage or divorce, change in citizenship status, incorrect date of birth, etc.)
  • Those who cannot submit original documents required to prove their identity in the mail or via external drop-box locations (for example: lawfully present non-citizens applying for SSI benefits that must also have immigration documents on their person at all times)

When you call, the SSA will “pre-screen” you by phone to ensure your issue qualifies for an in-person express interview. First, they review all other options with you in case there’s another way to fulfill your request. Once they’re sure you must come in, they’ll explain which documents to bring to your appointment. Then, they’ll schedule a time and date for your office visit to review that evidence in person. Finally, your “express interview” is solely to review your evidence documents and should last 5-7 minutes total. Once the field agent verifies those documents, they’ll give them back and confirm your current mailing address.

Scammers Using Social Security Office Closings to Target Beneficiaries

Scammers are sending out letters saying that unless you call a specific phone number, you won’t get a benefit raise this year. However, this is 100% false. Inspector General Gail S. Ennis warned about the most recent scam in her December 2021 press release. If you get a letter, call, text or email that sounds odd to you, report it to the SSA here.  

How Long Does It Take to Apply for Disability Benefits Over the Phone?

If you planned to apply for disability benefits in person at your local Social Security office, we have good news. Those office employees still answer your phone calls and provide critical support services to those in need. When calling the SSA’s national, toll-free numbers, automated telephone services should help reduce your time spent on hold. To speak with an employee at your local Social Security office, you must call the general inquiry (GI) line instead. Visit the Social Security office locator page, type in your ZIP code and then click the “locate” button. You should see the GI phone number displayed on the next page.

In FY2021, anyone calling the SSA’s 1-800 national number waited an average of 16 minutes before speaking to a person. In fact, the SSA received almost 33.5 million calls that year (250,000 per day)! Depending on which disability benefit you’re applying for, expect it to take 91-130 minutes total over the phone. That’s about how long the application process takes in person at your local Social Security office. We recommend blocking off a three-hour period to complete your disability application by phone.

Applying for Disability Benefits or Checking Your Claim’s Status Online

You can, of course, apply for disability benefits online through the SSA’s website. Be aware, though, that applying online won’t increase your chances for approval or get your benefits paid any faster. (Filing through a lawyer makes you nearly 3x more likely to get approved than applying on your own.)  Once you’ve created your SSA.gov account, you can save your progress as you go and check your claim status anytime. However, you’ll still need to wait about four months, on average, to hear back from the SSA.

How Might Social Security Office Closings Impact Disability Approval Wait Times for New Applicants?

The SSA estimates its average Social Security disability claim-processing time in 2021 was 171 days. (Compare that number with 2020’s average of 131 days total to process initial SSD claims.) What’s more, that 171 days is how long it takes just to hear back from the SSA. It’s not how long the average person waits for claim approval, in other words. If you apply on March 1, 2022 and the SSA approves you, expect your first payment no sooner than September 2022. However, if the SSA denies your claim, you have 60 days to appeal.

Reconsideration is the first appeal stage, and it adds another 152 days to your wait time. If successful, you’ll wait an average 323 days total. Add in time to file your appeal, and you’ll likely get your first SSD payment in January or February 2023. And if the SSA denies your first appeal? Then your wait time grows much longer, unfortunately. Every state has its own court calendar, and you’ll have to wait months or years to schedule an appeals hearing. If you get to this stage, expect to wait at least 310 more days before receiving your decision.

No matter how strong you think your disability claim is, talk to a lawyer before you apply. Every disability lawyer works on contingency and offers free, no-obligation consultations. Attorneys won’t charge anything up front to file your SSD application. If the SSA denies your claim, then you owe $0 in legal assistance. And if you do get benefits, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee. Determined to apply on your own? We recommend Real Tactics for Filing Your Disability Claim, written in plain, easy to understand language by someone who got approved for benefits herself.

Related: Disability Question: Do I Have to Quit My Job?

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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.